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Include Freelancers in Company Culture and Maximize their Value

Photo: Courtesy of Mimi Thian

Speaker and author, Sophie Wade, explains how freelancers and companies can work together profitably and efficiently.  

Sophie Wade

Workforce Innovation Specialist and Founder, Flexcel Network

How can companies make freelancers and those who don’t work in the same physical space feel the culture of the company and ensure they are creating a positive workspace for them?

A company’s culture comprises its mindset and values. It defines the working environment and determines workers’ behavior, whatever their employment arrangement and wherever they are working. If cultural values are clearly and consistently articulated and pervasive, as well as validated in company meetings and daily interactions, then everyone working in and with the organization is influenced and guided by them.

Positive work conditions are nurtured when executives and managers actively promote and demonstrate open, inclusive, and flexible mindsets, and cultural values include integrity, transparency, and respect which allow trust to build. Mutually supportive behaviors are confirmed and reinforced across the workforce, so everyone can feel safe, their contributions valued, and are engaged to do their best work — employees and non-employees alike.

What are ways companies can benefit from introducing freelancers into their company? In other words, how can this create success for businesses in addition to their full time employees?

Technology advances have accelerated the speed of market developments and reduced their predictability. Companies are having to iterate, adapt, and pivot quickly based on more frequent customer feedback and competitors’ moves. Business models, technologies, and skills needs are evolving faster, putting pressure on managers to predict and fulfill future work needs.

To be most employable, contract workers often have the most current, honed skills. They can provide short-term targeted expertise, handle project overflow, investigate new markets and more, giving organizations the ability to be more flexible in a less certain business climate. 73 percent of companies now align requirement against the “total talent pool,” encompassing non-employees as well, to get their enterprise work done, including even core strategic work.

What resources can businesses provide their freelancers or independent contractors to help them thrive in that company?

Working in corporate offices or remotely, at times freelancers and contractors need access to relevant people, files, printing, and other resources within a client organization so they can be productive and accomplish their tasks. SONY created a portal to welcome and facilitate appropriate access to corporate resources for contractors which is one effective model to provide suitable support.

Cultural values create common ground among workers, promote enhanced connections, deeper relationships, and facilitate empathetic communication and collaboration. When an organization shares their cultural framework with prospective contractors, mutually beneficial selection can bring together a better-aligned blend of employees and non-employees. Many organizations now have an extended pool of familiar freelancers who are a good cultural fit and work with them regularly (as permissible by relevant employment laws).

Have you noticed a correlation between freelancers and productivity versus a typical full-time employee and engagement?

Some freelancers desire work-life balance, others require flexible arrangements, such as time or location, their preferred employers do not allow. Others freelance so they can live in less expensive areas.  

To achieve financial stability, independent workers have to perform well for every client on every project. Success means proactively finding work they can engage in and excel at; honing and updating their skills; discovering how to perform consistently at high levels without managerial oversight or organizational infrastructure; self-motivating; and more. It typically takes attention, observation, reflection, and many iterations to discover how best to do this and stay competitive. With less pressure to perform consistently and less control over training and work options, employees are mostly not as engaged, up-to-date, or productive as freelancers.

How can companies prepare themselves for the future of the remote workforce, whether it be full-time employees transitioning to teleworking or onboarding a freelance community?

The first step is to recognize the evolving nature of work which is now less predictable, less forecastable, and more “projectized.” New ways of resourcing, assigning, and accomplishing work are now relevant.

Second, an active, well-understood culture at the core is important to ground and connect workers in a less stable business climate, so people can work faster, under more competitive pressure, across generations, silos, and locations.

Third, help employees identify their work style and preferred conditions so they can optimize their work situations. Train managers specifically to deal with remote and blended teams, actively understanding and managing each worker individually. Empathy is key.

Lastly, ensure every remote member of the workforce has the technology and tools they need to accomplish their tasks.

How would you recommend that freelancers find the right companies to work for?

Recognize what mindsets, values, settings, and specific work enable you to perform. Find and select companies and people to work with that will enable and motivate you to do your best work. Develop questions that draw out details about working practices at a prospective client organization to help you understand whether their work methods and practices match well with yours.

When you find a good fit, become a preferred contractor. Practice your empathy skills so you can collaborate well with client employees and other freelancers on projects. Proactively develop stronger relationships, seek out additional projects, offer additional complementary services. Show them the ease and benefits of working with you, which serves them too.

Do you have any other tips or pieces of advice for freelancers as they are navigating this modern workforce?

  • Know yourself: The more self-aware you are, the better you can understand others and work well with them, whomever and wherever they are.
  • Practice empathy: This skill helps improve relationships, communication, and collaboration which greatly benefits freelancers.
  • Focus on skills: Identify your top skills and how you can use them. Keep abreast of skills you will need for future projects.
  • Keep learning: Life-long learning is the reality for everyone to stay competitive with relevant knowledge and credentials.

Buttress weaknesses: Use apps or affordable targeted help for front/back end tasks supporting your freelance business that you hate or avoid, so everything is taken care of AND you can maximize your client work hours.

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